Books / Reviews | RECENTLY PUBLISHED BOOKS ABOUT JAPAN

'Beyond the Gender Gap in Japan': A nuanced take on the status of women in Japan

by Louise George Kittaka

Contributing Writer

While Japan climbed four places from the previous year in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 gender gap index, it is still ranked at a lowly 110 out of 149 countries. The gender wage disparity, a conservative corporate culture and a dearth of high-ranking female role models in government and management are oft-cited problems for Japan. However, as Gill Steel, an associate professor of political science at Doshisha University, notes in her introduction to this book, the forces that shape the lives of modern Japanese women are much more complex. This volume examines the theme from a variety of perspectives, such as marriage and fertility, employment, use of leisure time, participation in politics and public policy.

Beyond the Gender Gap in Japan, by Gill Steel.
286 pages
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN PRESS, Nonfiction.

The book fills in some of the gaps in previous research into the status of women in Japan, including the myriad ways in which they exercise agency in their lives, and digs deeper into reasons why the Japanese government’s efforts to encourage female participation in the workforce and raise the birthrate are lacking. It also shows that Japanese women are not a monolithic entity; a range of lifestyle choices exist and many women report a high level of well-being. In her chapter on political activism by conservative women, for example, Kimiko Osawa points out that some are happy to support traditional gender norms for their sex.

Notably, 80 percent of the contributors are female, and both Japanese and international voices are represented. Rich in data, this book is a boon to anyone interested in Japanese society and gender studies.